While the two martini lunch has gone out of style and hand written letters have become a rarity, there is still much to be said for employing the art of social grace to grease the wheels of commerce.
Everyone we might do business with is a colleague. Granting a feeling of importance to a fellow human being is the essence of social grace. And there are a thousand and one ways to recognize a colleague’s importance.
I have had the pleasure of working with some of the business world’s greatest luminaries. Burt Harris, a billionaire pioneer of broadcast television was a client many years ago. I was a young investment banker trying to find a foothold. I would not have expected Burt to give me the time of day much less work on a project with me. We went to Puerto Rico together to prepare Burt’s cable system in San Juan for sale. Burt always carried a camera with him and would insist on taking a photo of everyone we would meet.
Later back in my office I received a package from Burt. Inside were a few pictures of me and a hand written note thanking me for my help and service. I would see Burt at trade shows and he always had that camera with him, taking pictures of sales guys and executives, anyone he visited with. It made us feel important. Which I would argue is the greatest gift one can give to their fellow man or woman.
Another early mentor was Bill Daniels, known as the “father of the cable TV business.” Also a billionaire, Bill was as hard driving as they come but he always stopped to listen and would go out of his way to help a fellow human being. I had been working for him for only a few months when my son was Bar Mitzvah’ed. Bill found out and sent a check – but he also included a wonderful letter extolling my virtues and telling my son how lucky he was to have me as his dad.
Years later I left Bill with another of his execs and formed a competing company. One day out of the blue, Bill called me simply to congratulate me and tell me how proud he was of me and my partner. Many years after that I formed my current firm and sent out announcements. Bill had the announcement embedded in acrylic and sent that to me with a lovely congratulatory note.
Bill and Burt both made me feel important. And it wasn’t the bonuses and commissions. It was the validation, the acknowledgement that I meant something and, in a small way, had contributed to their success.
I resist the idea of preaching as it is rarely seen as social courtesy! That said; please forgive me if I offer a tidbit of advice to any who can use it - Social grace boils down to two things – communication and genuine compliments. The tools of social grace include being interested in others, acknowledging them and being willing to overlook some things while complimenting the good works that most of us strive to produce and are eager to be recognized for.
I used to try and exhibit social grace in emails with flourishing language and superlatives. I woke up one day and realized that folks rarely read beyond the first few lines. I decided that social grace in emails is best delivered with brevity and clarity. The key point is that I can let the other fellow know they are important with a simple polite response. Even a “thanks, but no thanks” or “I will get back to you later” seems more of a social grace than ignoring the email altogether.
Practicing social grace is practicing good business. And if you have read this far and would like to drop me an email at [email protected], you will have made the author feel important. Thank you!
Pete Sokoloff is Senior Managing Director of Peter A. Sokoloff & Co., an investment bank specializing in mergers and acquisitions in telecommunications and homeland security. [email protected]